NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley has told a meeting of the NSW Nature Conservation Council that he will rip-up existing native vegetation laws to “stop land clearing”.
A transcript of his speech obtained by The Land indicates Mr Foley, the former shadow environment minister, is firmly going for the green vote at the next election, although he said he would work with farmers to “re-write the laws”.
He also accused the NSW Government of allowing the “scandalous theft of water from the Barwon-Darling”.
“Labor will return biodiversity laws to a regime based on science and will support those who work every day to protect biodiversity,” Mr Foley said to applause. He said Labor would work with “environmentalists, we will work with scientists, we will work with farmers and other landholders to completely rewrite the laws to stop land clearing”.
NSW Primary Industries Minister and Nationals MP Niall Blair said Mr Foley’s statements were a direct attack of farmers’ property rights.
“This is a clear attack on property rights,” Mr Blair said. “He thinks we can regulate on the rights of a landholder. He also made a clear distinction on the value of water rights and the value of vegetation rights but if he’s going to attack property rights, you have to see them together. He’s the most left-wing labor leader we’ve ever seen. I mean he doesn’t care about the food and fibre produced by a hardworking farmer at Walgett who provides for the community.
“And if he rips up the native vegetation laws that will leave everyone in limbo. There’s no detail about what he will do. What will happen to stewardship payments? How long will it take to put new laws in place?
“His attack also that the native vegetation laws are unscientific are completely false. There was an expert panel used to help draw up the laws, and also an independent LLS committee – so the current laws are all based on science.
“This is a property rights issue. It’s as simple as that.”
Mr Foley told the NCC forum at Redfern that NSW was seeing a “biodiversity decline in our state”.
“The last I saw, there’s around 1000 species of plants and animals and 108 ecological communities that are listed as threatened under our NSW laws,” he told the NCC gathering.
“The clearing of native vegetation, the destruction of habitat, that’s the single greatest threat to biodiversity in our state and this government tore up Labor’s land clearing laws. They tore them up.
“Now they’re trying currently to conceal some of the damage that’s been done but we know, in large part because of the on-the-efforts of conservationists monitoring what’s going on, that what is happening is frightening.
“This is about clearing, it’s about deforestation. And this I think is as bad as the scandalous theft of water from the Barwon Darling – you’ve got to see them together.
“Such a cleared landscape, a green light from the current government, to just continue with clearing.
“We will establish a biodiversity taskforce to prepare legislative amendments and policy amendments to make sure we secure the outcomes that are needed to prevent biodiversity decline in our state.”
NSW Farmers president James Jackson said Mr Foley was “tree-blinded” and catering to inner-city Greens.
“He’s deferring to the inner-city Greens,” Mr Jackson said.
“I’m disappointed with his inability to understand the consequences of what he’s saying, largely through ignorance.
“He’s completely tree focussed. He doesn’t even consider how some grasslands have been overtaken by trees.”
Mr Jackson said Mr Foley’s views were “inflexible” and wouldn’t work and that many solid gains had been made for biodiversity under the existing native vegetation laws.